Wednesday, January 23, 2013

All The Things You Are

Happy New Year!  Did you make any musical New Year's resolutions?  I did.  My resolution is to work on some linear improvisation ability for once.  What that means in practice is for me to do some things that I promised myself that I wouldn't do when I took up piano.   I promised myself that I wouldn't work on rote practicing of scales, licks and transcriptions - lest I get bored, frustrated and stop playing altogether.

But I realized that I am more frustrated with my lack of linear improvisation skills than I will probably get with  putting in some time on arpeggio fingering, licks, transcriptions and whatnot.  

Rather than start small,  a transcription of a Lennie Tristano solo to "All the Things You Are"  fell into my lap.   I saw it as a sign.  "All the Things You Are" is one of the songs that is discussed, played, and argued about endlessly by jazz players.  They most often just refer to it as ATTYA,  because it is so well known.  It is so harmonically interesting (see Geek Alert) that they just love to continually explore the tune.  I suppose that how you play it also says a lot about you as a player.  So I must be nuts to pick this one as a lets-try-something-new piece.

Lennie Tristano was an amazing jazz pianist who is virtually unknown outside of jazz circles.  Jazz piano players know him well.  He had an incredible harmonic and out-there linear flow to his improvisation that always begs to be analyzed.  But he is an acquired taste, even to other jazz piano players.

So I got my hands on this very cool two verse transcription.  There is no doubt that Lennie played this at very fast speed, which I had no intention (read: capability) of doing.  I'm honestly not that wild about this number as an uptempo tune.  I played around with it as as waltz, in 4 at 120 and 80BPM.   I wound up deciding to do it as a slow ballad at 60 with a full verse of solo piano.  My solo is the first verse when the rhythm section comes in.  Many of the licks of this are taken somewhere or another from the Lennie Tristano transcription.  You would never recognize it as anything coming from Lennie,  but I guess that is the point of building up a catalog of ideas to use for linear improvisation.       

"All the Things You Are" is a song composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics written by Oscar Hammerstein II.

It was written for the musical Very Warm for May (1939), where it was introduced by Hiram Sherman, Frances Mercer, Hollace Shaw, and Ralph Stuart. It was later featured in the film Broadway Rhythm (1944), and was performed during the opening credits and as a recurring theme for the romantic comedy A Letter for Evie (1945). It was used in the 2005 film Mrs. Henderson Presents starring Judi Dench.

Leonard Joseph Tristano (19 March 1919 – 18 November 1978) was a jazz pianist, composer and teacher of jazz improvisation. He performed in the cool jazz, bebop, post bop and avant-garde jazz genres. He remains a somewhat overlooked figure in jazz history, but his enormous originality and dazzling work as an improviser have long been appreciated by knowledgeable jazz fans. In addition, his work as a jazz educator meant that he has exerted a substantial influence on jazz through figures such as Lee Konitz and Bill Evans.

Geek Alert

The chorus is a 36-measure AA2BA3 form that features two twists on the usual 32-bar AABA song-form: A2 transposes the initial A section down a fourth, while the final A3 section adds an extra four bars. The chords of the A2 section precisely echo those of the initial eight measure A section, except the roots of each chord in the initial A section are lowered (transposed down) by a perfect 4th interval. So Fmi7 in A becomes Cmi7 in A 2, Bbmi7 becomes Fmi7, Eb7 becomes Bb7, etc. In the same vein, the melody sung over A2 is identical to the A section melody except every pitch of every melody note is also lowered by a perfect 4th interval. The first 5 measures of A3 are identical to the initial 8 measure long A and A2 sections. In the 6th measure, A3 takes a new path that does not come to an end until the 12 measure of the section. The modulations in this song are very unusual for a pop song of the period, and present challenges to a singer or improviser, including a semitone modulation that ends each A section (these modulations start with measure 6 in the A and A2 sections and measure 9 of the A3 section), and a striking use of enharmonic substitution at the turnaround of the B section (last two measures of the B Section), where the G# melody note over a E major chord turns into an A-flat over the F minor 7th of measure 1 of section A3. The result is a tune that in the space of every chorus manages to include at least one chord built on every note of the Western 12-tone scale